An Open Letter to People Who Write About Borderline Personality Disorder

I’ve read roughly twenty of the exact same article in the last several months. “How to recognize Borderline Personality Disorder!” “Why Borderlines and Narcissists fall for each other!” It’s getting old.

Every psychologist on here wants to get attention. The latest play for our eyeballs and our money comes from their obsession with this disorder. Why? Borderlines are portrayed as highly unstable, overdramatic, and somehow sexualized. The media obsesses about women who implode their own lives, and borderlines seem like an excellent example. Psychologists who focus on this disorder want to capitalize on the glamour and the pain.

It’s despicable.

First off, as few of these articles bother to mention, anywhere from thirty to seventy-five percent of those diagnosed with BPD come from childhood trauma. Again, the media would like to foreground the most minor examples of this, to trace abandonment trauma to divorce or emotional cruelty. However, in reality, BPD sufferers might well have lived through child sex trafficking, parental molestation, or worse.

Stigmatizing people who have already lived through hell should be considered off-limits to any psychologist worth their salt. Alas.

Second, there is an increasing tendency to collapse all individuals with diagnosed BPD into one oversized category, to insist that everyone exhibits the same (stigmatized) behaviors for the same reasons. If one person with BPD sets her ex’s car on fire, this line of reasoning goes, we must all be capable of it.

That’s sort of like saying that if one person with depression commits suicide, then everyone with depression should be put on suicide watch. It logically makes no sense. It’s reductive. It’s offensive to people struggling to put their lives back together in the wake of going through something that is already deeply difficult.

So when it comes to BPD, what’s the difference? Why are all people with BPD considered the same, when that would never be true of virtually any other mental health diagnosis?

I’ve read endless references to BPD that say things like “people with BPD can’t love” or “people with BPD can’t be trusted.” Really? How was such a thing decided? Who determined this particular paradigm — or is it simply an overdramatic way to score points at the cost of someone else’s humanity?

Let me tell you a bit about my experience with BPD. I diagnosed myself based on research I did online and the fact that I am a child abuse survivor. I found a psychiatrist who specialized in BPD. I did a few DBT exercises to supplement the work I had already done in mindfulness. I bought a workbook specifically about BPD. I worked on fixing myself.

True, I will never react to the world the way I would have if I did not have BPD. That’s because I will never know what it is like to live in this world having grown up with loving parents, a supportive community, and without the abuse and neglect that shaped my childhood.

So much of what underlies BPD attachment disorders and clinging and confusion over relationships is trauma. If your parents teach you that you are at fault for the horrible things they do to you, it’s probably going to mess you up. That does not make you a “hot mess,” as one article writer described this group. Instead, what it actually makes us is profoundly human — and strong enough to survive what very, very few could.

For most of my life, I struggled by myself. I still managed to finish my Bachelor’s, and an MFA in Creative Writing, and a Master’s in English. I learned to fight injustice rather than fighting myself. I have lived happily with select other people, and I have gained the strength and resources to be able to leave abusive living situations. I have close friendships. I participate in communities. I write about my life, successfully.

I am a success story. In spite of having Borderline. Perhaps even because of the trauma that shaped me and what I’ve chosen to do with it.

Treating a BPD diagnosis like a life sentence just tells us you have no faith. It tells us you’d rather stigmatize us than work with us to figure out what we need to be healthy, happy, and safe. Rather than see us as the heroic survivors that we are, you insist on viewing us only as victims. Why?

I am proud of myself for what I have lived through. I am proud of myself for making it out alive. I am proud of the work I do to ensure others do the same.

You would think this would be something worth celebrating.

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